When Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, sat down with Mayor Bill de Blasio in June, she knew that her proposal — millions of dollars in additional funding for the museum — was a big ask.
“I’m really grateful to the mayor and the commissioner of Cultural Affairs,” she said in a phone conversation. “When I came to them with this very big idea, they actually took the meeting, and they took it seriously.”
Her persistence paid off: On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will announce that the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs will give the museum $50 million in capital funds, the largest gift in the museum’s nearly 200-year history.
“I’ve been dreaming of this since I joined the museum a little over five years ago,” Pasternak said. “Our exhibitions and public programs have been embracing ideas for 21st-century museums, but our building is absolutely mired in the 19th century. So it’s time to catch up.”
Pasternak said the funding will enable the museum to embark on a new slate of initiatives: modernizing 40,000 square feet of existing gallery space, creating a permanent gallery devoted to the history of Brooklyn and supporting energy-efficiency upgrades in the city-owned landmark building. The fourth- and fifth-floor galleries for European, decorative and American arts, including Indigenous artworks, as well as design, will all get new interiors and climate control systems. Installations of work from the museum’s collection will also be reconsidered as part of the project.
“We hope to be able to significantly expand our contemporary art galleries and design spaces,” she said. “We have one of the great American design collections, and absolutely inadequate spaces in which to show it.”
Pasternak said the investment will not only allow the museum to showcase more of its permanent collection, but also to engage visitors in new ways.
“People are wanting more immersive, participatory experiences in addition to having beautiful galleries with natural light,” she said. “You want to be able to have sound; you want to be able to have projection. You want to be able to envelop people in a multitude of ways of telling stories.”
The Brooklyn Museum is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States, the second largest in New York after the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has a permanent collection of more than 500,000 objects, including one of the finest collections of Egyptian art in the world.
In addition to serving as a gallery space, the museum attracts thousands of younger adults to its monthly free First Saturday events, in which it remains open until 11 p.m. and becomes a kind of dance club, with wine, food and live music (on hold for the moment).
But the institution, which has a large building that is far from Manhattan’s Museum Mile, has long struggled financially. It faced pushback from art critics and curators last year when it became the first major U.S. arts organization to take advantage of a two-year window in which the Association of Art Museum Directors allowed institutions hit hard by the economic crisis to deaccession, or sell off, work in order to pay for the existing collection’s care.
The city gives the museum approximately $9 million each year for operating expenses — or about 20 percent of its operating budget of approximately $43 million. The mayor said in a statement on Monday that the latest investment “will ensure the Brooklyn Museum remains an iconic destination for generations to come.”
Pasternak said that while there is no timeline yet for the renovations, many more announcements are to come.
“We have dreams for a lot of projects,” she said. “We’re excited to at long last give Brooklyn the museum it deserves.”